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Hedge Funds For Hipsters

When Hedge Funds Get Down With The Kids

Being the jaded journalist that I am, I thought I would hate everyone in the room. Everyone, that is, except the proprietors of Greenlight Bookstore, our local bookstore in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, who seem like pleasant people and who, on Monday night, hosted a reading for a new book, Diary of A Very Bad Year: Confessions Of An Anonymous Hedge Fund Manager. Reading from the book would be the co-authors Keith Gessen, co-editor in chief of the twice-yearly terribly hip literary journal N+1, and the anonymous hedge fund manager himself.

And initially I did hate them all. The predominantly 20-something male audience with their thick-framed media glasses and their shaggy hair cuts, fresh from jobs as a junior editor or literary agents or what ever it is they do, ready to chew on the gristle of the truly substantive issues of our time — finance.

Very quickly, my hostility found a target in the form of the 20-something sitting next to me who looked like he had recently completed graduate school where he no doubt read Derrida in the original and everything was very meta. Anyway now, as he eagerly told the guy sitting to my left who was apparently some blogger that he admired (its Brooklyn, we’re lousy with blogger and media types. Apparently half of the New Yorker staff lives in my neighborhood, or so I’m told), he was “looking to break into media.” By which he seemed to mean some kind of financial writing.

Hold on a minute ­— when did finance get hip? When, suddenly, did all the cool kids, who by rights should be sitting around talking about how to take down the man or the green revolution, think there was some kind of intellectual kudos to knowing what a CDO is? (And, yes, people at D.E. Shaw I see you waving at me. You don’t count.) This guy actually said, with no apparent irony, “I hardly read anything in print anymore.” So he’s getting all of his financial news, views and information online. Because, you know, for the kids its all about the blogosphere and twitter. And after all, that’s where there real insight into our economic collapse is coming from, right? (How’s that for meta? Bashing blogging while blogging.)

By this stage, if I didn’t throttle my seatmate, I was seriously considering flight. When I originally received a copy of the book by Gessen and Anonymous Hedge Fund Manager (unfortunately identified throughout as HFM) I’d discarded it. Firstly, I’m done with Crash-Lit. I’m not sure we’re learning anything through yet another view from within the eye of the storm written by someone trying to be the next Michael Lewis. Secondly, if I’m going to read this I want to know who the hedge fund manager is. I’m all for anonymous sourcing, but unless you’re really giving me the “Primary Colors” of the hedge fund industry, the views of some anonymous hedge fund dude don’t interest me. I learn more every day when I pick up the phone and talk to my sources.

So I was surprised to find myself warming to HFM (gahhhh) as he and Gessen began their reading and he took questions from the audience. He wasn’t wearing any kind of silly disguise to protect his identity, beyond his generic striped shirt dark pants of the bland hedge fund PM. Though I reckon with around 30 minutes, a copy of Institutional Investor’s hedge fund 100, the Internet and a Bloomberg terminal I could rumble him, I kind of lost my heart for the hunt. He was intelligent, he was thoughtful and, above all, honest. The hedge fund industry needs more of these voices speaking out in whatever format.

I can see why Gessen, who confesses to knowing nothing about finance, took to HFM with his knack for spelling out complex issues in a way that smart, if not financially literate, people can understand. Here he is on the rating agencies: “I don’t know how they escaped with so little in damages given how much damage they did.” On hedge funds’ culpability in the economic collapse: “This wasn’t like 1998 when hedge funds were at the center of a financial shock. We weren’t guilty this time around.” On Goldman Sachs: “I used to tell people “It’s not a bank it’s a criminal conspiracy.”

So I may have been wrong about HFM, but this is turning into quite the week for publishing. My former boss, Randall Lane, has a book out on his experience running Double Down Media, which produced Trader Monthly, a lifestyle magazine for traders which I used to describe as Maxim meets Forbes down a dark alley. His book, as far as I can tell, is the equivalent of Toby Young’s How to Lose Friends & Alienate People for financial journalism. Though without Young’s talk of addiction, self-awareness or wit.

I’m not really interested in what Lane has to say. But it occurs to me that Trader Monthly was symptomatic of the same slavish, unthinking, self-aggrandizing following of the financial industry and global economic markets that had my young friend at Greenlights salivating.

If this is what makes financial journalism sexy, I’m okay just not being that hip.

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